Can Iowa City’s vibrant entertainment district survive COVID-19?

Sep 15, 2020 | Life | 0 comments

September 2020
By Tim Nedoba

Iowa City, IA – The Iowa City area has but one LGBTQ+ bar. It’s located in downtown Iowa City in what is referred to as the downtown entertainment district. A district that has been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Despite having only one gay bar, downtown Iowa City offers several entertainment options for the LGBTQ+ community, including University of Iowa students. Entertainment options that are only available in a post-pandemic environment.

Will Iowa City businesses survive the pandemic? It’s safe to say some will and some will not. Will the loss of some of these businesses have a long-term adverse effect on the local LGBTQ+ community’s quality of life? reached out to area leaders to seek answers to these questions and get their thoughts on a post-COVID-19 downtown Iowa City. Many of our top city officials and business organization leaders responded to our request for comment. One notable absentee is Iowa City mayor, Bruce Teague. Despite several attempts, GoGuide has not yet received a response for a request for comment.

Geoff Fruin, Joe Reilly, Nancy Bird, Christopher Hunter, and Nick Pfeiffer respond:

Geoff Fruin | Iowa City city manager

How important is it to our City leaders that Iowa City has received 6 consecutive years of a perfect score of 100 from HRC? 

The Iowa City Council has been extremely focused on taking steps to create a more inclusive, just and sustainable Iowa City.  This designation is a sign that progress is being made and we are very proud to be in a small group of cities that receives such recognition.  That said, we know more work is needed and we are always looking for ways to further our efforts and help ensure that all people feel welcomed, included and safe in our community. 

Are there some current initiatives the local LGBTQ community may not be aware of and you could share with us? 

The Center is one part of our organization that has really shown great initiative. Over the last couple of years they have developed impactful LGBTQ programming and community events.   A couple of examples from the past year include a LGBTQ+ Pride potluck and trivia night and a LGBTQ+ Expo. 
I would also highlight some exciting work taking place in our Police Department. They successfully pursued a $450,000 grant this past year that is bringing expert training to our department focused on eliminating gender bias in our response to domestic crimes, including those committed against LGBTQ+ members of our community.  We want to be a national leader in this effort and I am incredibly excited that we are one of six law enforcement agencies in the country that is participating in this grant program. 

Joe Reilly | Iowa City Downtown District nighttime liaison

Will the downtown Iowa City entertainment and hospitality group survive the COVID-19 pandemic?

As we enter new territory, the attitude for downtown is you need to react to the information that is given to you daily, while at the same time making decisions for the future. Our businesses are planning to navigate operations during this new time and remain resilient. – Joe Reilly

Does downtown Iowa City still offer a vibrant LGBTQ community for new and future UI students?

Geographically located adjacent to campus, Downtown has and will continue naturally as a meeting place for times of friendship, adversity, celebration, grief, and action; not only for the LGBTQIA+ community but for all visitors and residents. – Joe Reilly

Nancy Bird, executive director | Iowa City Downtown District

On some businesses closing downtown:

“We have definitely a number of businesses close their doors related to the coronavirus pandemic and we are concerned about how long our restaurant, retail and cultural community can hang on in the current state.   We hope that our local community can continue their support through local spending in the manner which they feel is safest, whether by pick up, local delivery, or by wearing face coverings when visiting downtown and enjoying the additional outdoor seating in this lovely weather.

On some new businesses coming to downtown:

“We are really thrilled to have seen new businesses continue to find value and promise in opening during this time as well.  Target opens this August, as does the new Burger Haul on the ped mall, Players and Elray’s Live and Dive on Iowa to name a few. Prairie Kitchen Store on N. Linn Street also celebrated their opening this summer and has been able to connect with customers in these unusual times as has Heim, an artist-driven pottery store, that reopened on Washington Street.  All of these openings bode well for the future of Downtown and what we hope to see in the return of a stronger market.  I don’t think the community has forgotten that Downtown Iowa City is, and will always be, a special place.”

Christopher Hunter, | director of special events, Iowa City Downtown District

New businesses that have opened recently downtown Iowa City:
Elray’s Live and Dive is officially open! Located at 211 Iowa Ave, this brand new venue is bringing live music to Iowa City. Visit their website to see upcoming shows, the history of Elray and how he started in Iowa, went to Nashville, and brought this new business to Downtown.
Hare Parlor is located on 217 N. Gilbert St. and is currently open and ready to take new appointments! Paul Clark, the owner of Hare Salon, has been a cosmetologist since the age of 19. He loves what he does, and is excited to share it with you! 
Burger Haul is located in the previous Saloon space downtown, 112 E College St. They are now open!
Prairie Kitchen Store – Located at 160 N. Linn St on the Northside, Prairie Kitchen Store sells a variety of global and American made kitchen tools, cookware, and serving ware for entertaining; along with organic and small-batch specialty food items and unique gifts. The store will also offer cooking demonstrations and classes in the future.
Golden Tattoo & Piercing – Located at 25 S. Gilbert St on the corner of Gilbert and Washington. The tattoo/piercing/fine jewelry store will take a modern, safe, and comfortable approach within the industry for the community. Reach them by phone at 319-569-9199 or by email to inquire about availability for appointments.

Players – Players Iowa City, located at 219 Iowa Ave, is the ultimate location to watch your favorite sporting event, host your next private event, or enjoy a tasty meal with friends. Scheduled to open this August.
Bollywood Grill – Located at 201 S. Clinton St. Ste 166 in the Old Capitol Mall, Bollywood Grill is now open! Grilled food is their signature offering and they always ensure that their customer’s taste buds are fully satisfied. When you eat at their restaurant, you will be treated to only the freshest, tastiest grilled dishes.
Target – Target has a grand opening date of August 16th and is located at 113 E Washington St.
Basic Goods – Located at 125 S Dubuque St. in the Ped Mall, Basic Goods is a brand new concept store, dedicated to curating the best essentials for self and home. CLEAN. SUSTAINABLE. INCLUSIVE. Pro-planet, pro-you! Launching in the heart of downtown Iowa City and online this Summer.

Nick Pfeiffer | Vice President of Marketing & Communications Think Iowa City!

Is the area entertainment and hospitality industry in the Iowa City area prepared to survive a continuance of the COVID-19 pandemic?

Obviously, this is the biggest question our collective industry is facing right now. It is not a stretch to say that some will and unfortunately some won’t. That’s the normal nature of business and that is exacerbated in this environment. Think Iowa City has made continuous efforts to notify our partners of opportunities for federal and state assistance that have come along. Additionally, we’ve led the effort with our peer organizations (Iowa City Area Business Partnership, ICAD, and Iowa City Downtown District) in Project Better Together. This multifaceted program is working to solve many issues our community is facing now and in the future, but the most relevant is Buy Local Gift Card campaign in which consumers can submit receipts from local businesses including restaurants, bars, entertainment venues, retail stores, and more. For every $150 spent, they may select a $20 gift card from over 60 other local businesses. The goal is to bring one million dollars in local spending to our community. Information on this can be found at

Regarding the LGBTQ group that we lead (ICC Fusion):

This group is still active, but has taken a pause due to staff furloughs that have occurred over the past 3 months. It continues to be a focus of our organization.

Does the Iowa City Area still offer a vibrant LGBTQ community?

In my mind, absolutely. This community just celebrated, albeit remotely and in new ways, the 50th Iowa City PRIDE Festival – one of the longest running such festivals in the country. The voice of the LGBTQ community remains strong and continues to be amplified and respected through the social justice activation in recent months. 




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